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A Brief History of Homework

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I hope you are all enjoying the school year. I ask that you all get lots of rest, laugh often, and hug your children tightly. Again, welcome to Meigs Academic Magnet School, a community of learners on a path to greatness! I look forward to seeing you all very soon! All the best, Dr. Your child should have been provided login info.

Scott Underwood Principal ext Dr. We are an academic middle school for 5th to 8th grade students. Our mission is to provide a rigorous liberal arts curriculum that will allow our capable learners to perform at high standards of academic and social development.

Attend Meigs in Sonja Rosse Assistant Principal ext Attitudes toward homework have historically reflected societal trends and the prevailing educational philosophy of the time, and each swing of the pendulum is colored by unique historical events and sentiments that drove the movement for or against homework.

Yet the historical arguments for and against homework are familiar. At the end of the 19th century, attendance in the primary grades 1 through 4 was irregular for many students, and most classrooms were multiage. In the lower grades, school focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic; in grammar school grades 5 through 8 and high school, students studied geography, history, literature, and math.

Learning consisted of drill, memorization, and recitation, which required preparation at home: At a time when students were required to say their lessons in class in order to demonstrate their academic prowess, they had little alternative but to say those lessons over and over at home the night before.

Early in the 20th century, in concert with the rise of progressive education, an anti-homework movement would become the centerpiece of the progressive platform.

Progressive educators questioned many aspects of schooling: As pediatrics grew as a medical specialty, more doctors began to speak out about the effect of homework on the health and wellbeing of children.

The benefits of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise for children were widely accepted, and homework had the potential to interfere. One hundred years ago, rather than diagnosing children with attention deficit disorder, pediatricians simply prescribed more outdoor exercise. Homework was blamed for nervous conditions in children, eyestrain, stress, lack of sleep, and other conditions.

Homework was viewed as a culprit that robbed children of important opportunities for social interaction. At the same time, labor leaders were protesting working hours and working conditions for adults, advocating for a hour workweek. Child labor laws were used as a justification to protect children from excessive homework.

He recommended the elimination of homework for all students under the age of 15 and a limit of one hour nightly for older students. His writings were instrumental in the growth of the anti-homework movement of the early s, a harbinger of the important role media would play in the homework debate in the future.

By , the anti-homework sentiment had grown so strong that a Society for the Abolition of Homework was formed. Many school districts across the United States voted to abolish homework, especially in the lower grades: In the s and s, although few districts abolished homework outright, many abolished it in grades K—6. In grades K—3, condemnation of homework was nearly universal in school district policies as well as professional opinion.

And even where homework was not abolished, it was often assigned only in small amounts—in secondary schools as well as elementary schools. After the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in , the trend toward less homework was quickly reversed as the United States became obsessed with competing with the Russians. The homework problem was reconceived as part of a national crisis: A commitment to heavy homework loads was alleged to reveal seriousness of purpose in education; homework became an instrument of national defense policy.

Within a few short years, public opinion had swung back to the pro-homework position. During this period, many schools overturned policies abolishing or limiting homework that had been established between and By the late s and early s, in the midst of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, a counterculture emerged that questioned the status quo in literally every aspect of personal and political life. The anti-homework arguments were reminiscent of the progressive arguments of the early 20th century—again, homework was seen as a symptom of too much pressure on students to achieve.

Two prominent educational organizations went on record opposing excessive homework. The American Educational Research Association stated, Whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever it usurps time that should be devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents.

In Wildman, , p. The National Education Association issued this statement in It is generally recommended a that children in the early elementary school have no homework specifically assigned by the teacher; b that limited amounts of homework—not more than an hour a day—be introduced during the upper elementary school and junior high years; c that homework be limited to four nights a week; and d that in secondary school no more than one and a half hours a night be expected.

But by the s the pendulum would swing again. In , the study A Nation at Risk became the "first major report by the government attempting to prove that the purported inadequacies of our schools and our students were responsible for the troubles of the U. The report claimed there was a "rising tide of mediocrity" in schools and that a movement for academic excellence was needed National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk planted the seed of the idea that school success was responsible for economic success.

It ratcheted up the standards, starting what has been called the "intensification movement"—the idea that education can be improved if only there is more of it, in the form of longer school years, more testing, more homework.

A Nation at Risk explicitly called for "far more homework" for high school students. In , the U. Department of Education published What Works , which also recommended homework as an effective learning strategy. The pro-homework trend continued into the s, as the push for higher standards resulted in the conclusion that more homework was a remedy. As noted earlier, this was not the first time homework became the scapegoat for the perceived inadequacies of public education: Whenever reformers attempt to improve the academic outcomes of American schooling, more homework seems a first step.

The justification for this probably has more to do with philosophy students should work harder and with the ease of implementation increased homework costs no extra money and requires no major program modifications than with new research findings. Strother, in Connors, , p. During the late s and the early s, an occasional journal article would question whether more homework was necessarily better, but those voices were few and far between.

Most journal articles and popular books about homework took the safe position of being pro-homework and focused on strategies for getting children to complete homework. In , Harris Cooper now considered a leading expert on homework research published an exhaustive synthesis of research on homework a that seemed to have little effect on popular practice and received little media attention.

In , a board member in the school district of Half Moon Bay, California, made national news by recommending that the district abolish homework. The general media reaction was dismissive; the story was handled as cute and quirky, as if the idea of abolishing homework were just plain crazy.

By the late s, however, the tide would begin to shift back to an anti-homework focus. With increasing frequency, articles critical of traditional homework practices were published in educational journals. In , the American Educational Research Association conducted a symposium on homework practices. It portrayed homework as an intrusion on family tranquility and as just one more stressor in an already overstressed life, especially for two-career families.

The article also cited a University of Michigan study showing that homework for 6- to 8-year-olds had increased by more than 50 percent from to As homework increased, especially for the youngest students, and parents began feeling overwhelmed, stories detailing the struggle appeared widely in the popular press.

Now the mood was one of concern for overworked students and parents. In , Piscataway, New Jersey, received national attention for implementing a homework policy that limited the amount of homework, discouraged weekend homework, and forbade teachers from counting homework in the grade Kohn, Unlike the story about Half Moon Bay only six years earlier, this story was given serious media coverage, and the school district was deluged by requests from schools seeking a copy of the policy.

How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning received massive media attention and spawned an ongoing debate between the anti-homework and pro-homework contingents.

In , two popular-press books kept the debate going: Since then, the debate has continued with arguments similar to those first heard in the s and s. Like religion and politics, the arguments for and against homework stir intense emotions among parents, teachers, and administrators. Beliefs about the inherent goodness of homework are so entrenched, so unshakable for many parents and educators, they seem almost cultlike. For many, these beliefs are unexamined. Kralovec and Buell said it best: The true believers hold homework in such reverence, many educators are afraid to recommend that we eliminate it completely.

How can anyone be against work? Parenting magazines and newspaper articles accept without question that homework is part of school life and then continue to give advice on how to help kids complete it Kohn, Freelance writers have learned that writing that is too anti-homework will probably not be published in the mainstream media. To understand the cult ure of homework and how it developed over the last years, it is necessary to dissect the dogma, which can best be summarized by five largely unexamined beliefs about children and learning.

How many of these beliefs are based on fact, and how many are based on faith, tradition, or moral judgments? The role of the school is to extend learning beyond the classroom. Many believe it is not only the inalienable right of teachers but their obligation to extend learning beyond the classroom. Many teachers claim that homework keeps children out of trouble and that homework is better for children than television or video games.

Perhaps our role in extending learning outside the school is to instill in students the value of learning and the joy of learning, and to expose them to the vastness of the universe—how much there is to learn.

Perhaps our role is to help students find something in life they feel passionate about and to help them find their purpose in society. Intellectual activity is intrinsically more valuable than nonintellectual activity.

Many homework advocates believe that intellectual development is more important than social, emotional, or physical development.

Intellectual pursuits hold an implied superiority over nonintellectual tasks such as throwing a ball, walking a dog, riding a bike, or just hanging out. This belief presupposes the limited value of leisure tasks. Concurrently, some worry that too much unstructured time might cause children to be less successful, less competitive with others.

As with Belief 1, this view shows a distrust of parents to guide children in the productive use of free time and a distrust of children to engage in intellectual pursuits on their own.

In reality, physical, emotional, and social activities are as necessary as intellectual activity in the development of healthy, well-rounded children. One of the most resilient beliefs is that homework promotes responsibility and discipline.

Responsibility is often a code word for obedience. When we say we want students to be responsible , are we saying we want them to be obedient —to do what we want them to do when we want them to do it, to be mindless drones, blindly obedient to authority?

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